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Report sheds light on Turkish government’s role in enforced disappearances and abductions

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A scathing report by human rights group the Advocates of Silenced Turkey (AST) titled “Beyond Turkey’s Borders: Unveiling Global Purge, Transnational Repression, Abductions” has exposed what it claims to be a systematic and global pattern of human rights abuses perpetrated by the Turkish government, drawing attention to alleged state-sanctioned enforced disappearances and abductions against critics of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s government, mainly targeting the faith-based Gülen movement.

Enforced disappearances, common in Turkey during the 1990s, made a comeback following a failed coup in July 2016.

The Turkish government accuses the Gülen movement, a faith-based group inspired by Turkish cleric Fethullah Gülen, of being behind the abortive putsch and designates the group as a terrorist organization. The movement denies any involvement with the coup or any terrorist activity.

According to the AST report published on Friday, the Turkish government has adopted a multi-pronged approach, deploying oppressive tactics both domestically and internationally, to suppress its opponents. The report reveals that these practices include enforced disappearances, abductions, torture, coerced confessions, unlawful detentions and extrajudicial renditions, which it asserts are nothing less than crimes against humanity.

The AST report documents at least 30 instances of enforced disappearance where individuals, largely in Ankara, were whisked away in black transporter vans, in what the report describes as the “Black Transporter” cases. Several victims who were subsequently found reported being tortured during their enforced disappearance.

The report further alleges that Turkish authorities have engaged in systematic, state-sponsored extraterritorial abductions, forcibly returning more than 100 Turkish nationals from multiple countries to Turkey, an assertion confirmed by Turkey’s National Intelligence Organization (MİT) in its 2022 annual report.

These international abductions, the AST report argues, not only violate international law but also infringe on the sovereignty of the countries from which these individuals were abducted. The report accuses the Turkish government of pressuring other nations to arrest and deport members of the Gülen movement.

The Gülen movement, inspired by Turkish cleric Fethullah Gülen, has been at the center of President Erdoğan’s crackdown since the 2016 coup attempt, which the government alleges was orchestrated by the movement, a claim firmly denied by Gülen. Members of this movement, AST notes, have been subjected to what the organization calls a “cultural genocide” — a campaign of prosecution, detention, dismissal from jobs, imprisonment and displacement.

AST has called on the international community to hold the Turkish government accountable for these human rights abuses. It calls for an independent and impartial investigation into these allegations and for providing redress to the victims and their families.

In a related development the International Criminal Court (ICC) in February received  a communication from Belgian law firm Van Steenbrugge Advocaten (VSA) and two human rights organizations — the Turkey Tribunal VZW and Magistrats Européens pour la Démocratie et les Libertés (MEDEL) — alleging crimes against humanity committed by Turkish officials.

VSA, the Turkey Tribunal VZW and MEDEL claim that these crimes include torture, enforced disappearances and persecution, primarily against opponents of President Erdoğan’s government.

This move followed a four-day hearing held by the Turkey Tribunal in Geneva in 2021, which concluded that abuses perpetrated by Turkish state officials could constitute crimes against humanity.

The communication addressed to the ICC includes alleged evidence of crimes against humanity committed in 45 states that have ratified the Rome Statute, thus recognizing the ICC’s jurisdiction.

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